Alaska Legislature eases unemployment insurance benefit rules, weighs other emergency measures

The Alaska Capitol Building in Juneau on June 6, 2017. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The Alaska Legislature has been working on a few bills in response to the coronavirus disease.

Both chambers passed a bill, House Bill 308, that would ease access to unemployment insurance benefits for those affected by the pandemic. The measure would eliminate the one-week waiting period for benefits. And it would raise the benefit per dependent, from $25 to $75 per week.

Anchorage Democratic Rep. Ivy Spohnholz said Alaskans who’ve lost their jobs need the bill.

“They’re fearful about how they’re going to pay their rent, (how) they’re going to put food on the table for their children,” she said. “And this bill will go a long way to ensuring that working Alaskans who aren’t able to work are able to get some necessary support at this time.”

All legislators present in both chambers voted for the bill.

Another bill, Senate Bill 241, would extend Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s disaster emergency declaration for the state until Sept. 1 — allowing Dunleavy to proclaim the emergency has ended if Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum finds the virus outbreak or imminent threat of an outbreak no longer exists.

That bill also would provide funding to cover costs from the emergency.

And it would allow Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer to hold the primary or statewide special elections by mail.

The Senate passed the bill on Tuesday, sending it to the House.

Another measure, House Bill 309, would allow Dunleavy’s appointments to continue to serve, until the Legislature holds a joint session to vote on their confirmations.

Normally, lawmakers must meet during the legislative session to confirm appointments, and any appointee who isn’t confirmed must stop serving. But it doesn’t appear that the Legislature will hold a joint session before leaving Juneau.

The House passed the bill on Tuesday and sent it over to the Senate.

Dunleavy has proposed an economic stabilization plan that the Legislature hasn’t considered.  It’s not clear if the Legislature will consider a separate bill that would fund COVID-19 economic relief.